Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

St. Botolphs

St. Botolphs. Small Massachusetts town with a distinguished past that has been experiencing an economic, intellectual, and spiritual decline since the middle of the nineteenth century. The town is emblematic of the shift in emphasis from New England to other regions of the United States in postcolonial times. Cheever models St. Botolphs on the classic arrangement of many towns in areas around Boston, with a central square that is the focus of social and commercial life, and other characteristic geographic features like a hill rising above the square, a river running from the hills toward the coast, and farmlands stretching toward the mountains in the north.

Aside from the descriptive details which evoke the terrain, Cheever uses references to the way the scents of the location—particularly the aroma of various bodies and courses of water—contribute to the psychological atmosphere of the narrative, and to the moods of the characters. Captain Leander Wapshot is exhilarated by the “brine-smelling summer days” as he sails toward the bay beyond Boston harbor. The festival commemorating Independence Day is darkened by the dark, raw smell of mud. Mrs. Wapshot is touched by melancholy, epitomized by her taste for the smell of orange rinds and wood smoke.

Wapshot house

Wapshot house. St. Botolphs home of the Wapshot family, a large house beside the river on land that was part of a farm in earlier days. This house and other individual homes and shops have acquired a distinctive identity through a local oral tradition and are like landmarks in...

(The entire section is 659 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Wapshot Chronicle is divided into four parts: Part One presents a chronological history of the Wapshot family; Part Two alternates...

(The entire section is 189 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Deeply affected by the changing social and moral climate of postwar America, Cheever became increasingly convinced that a decade founded in...

(The entire section is 199 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The imaginative setting of St. Botolphs is reminiscent of a number of similar creations including Mark Twain's St. Petersburg, Sherwood...

(The entire section is 160 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In The Wapshot Scandal (1964), Cheever takes aim at contemporary American society by detailing the lives of the surviving Wapshots...

(The entire section is 393 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bosha, Francis J., ed. The Critical Response to John Cheever. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Sampler of reviews and critical essays on all Cheever publications. Reprints five reviews of The Wapshot Chronicle and includes a new essay by Kenneth C. Mason on “Tradition and Desecration” in the two Wapshot books.

Bosha, Francis J. John Cheever: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981. Excellent discussion of the inconsistent critical response to the fiction. Provides a comprehensive, fully annotated listing of works about Cheever, including reviews, articles, and interviews.

Collins, R. G., ed. Critical Essays on John Cheever. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. Good overview of the critical reception of Cheever’s fiction. Reprints many of the most important and influential reviews and essays (some in revised form). A new essay by Samuel Coale on Cheever’s “Romancer’s Art” is especially noteworthy.

Donaldson, Scott. John Cheever: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1988. Full, objective, sympathetic account of Cheever’s life and work. Discusses the publication and reception of The Wapshot Chronicle, in which, Donaldson asserts, “Cheever distilled in one book the accumulated vitality of two decades.” Fairminded and richly detailed.

Hunt, George W. John Cheever: The Hobgoblin Company of Love. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983. Longer and more detailed, but also more tendentious, than earlier book-length studies by Samuel Coale (1977) and Lynn Waldeland (1979). Useful summaries of plot and criticism and Hunt’s critical reading in terms of Cheever’s Christian perspective.